Friday, 3 February 2017

Edwin Fischer and Johann Sebastian Bach

I took advantage of the free offer by Andrew Rose and Pristine Audio to celebrate (?) their IT problems, and downloaded Edwin Fischer playing the first 24 preludes and fugues of the 48. I have long had Bach's 48 played by Fischer on CD (EMI) but am always willing to evaluate new transfers of the old mid-30s recordings. Repeated listening to the two CDs have prompted several musings:
  • When it comes to Bach on the keyboard, there is no real advantage in confining ones listening to the latest digital sound. The 48 on a harpsichord, clavichord, organ, fortepiano or modern grand piano are somewhat independent of original sound quality. To my ears, the recorded sound of Fischer's 1933-34 playing is fine, particularly in the Pristine transfers.
  • Edwin Fischer's Bach belongs in the same exalted company as the Busch Quartet's Beethoven and Schubert (and recorded in the same mid- 1930s period). I really do not need a better played, or better sounding, recording of the 48. Fischer in the mid- 1930s will do me fine.
  • The 48 preludes and fugues of Johann Sebastian Bach are undoubtedly great music, but I would be at a total loss to have to explain to d√©butante music lovers exactly why the music is great. Easy to demonstrate this with Schubert, with Bellini, with Wagner … and the rest. But with three hours of preludes and fugues, some of the pieces lasting for less than one minute? I can almost see my grandchildren's eyes glaze over. And yet: I can listen to the 48 over and over again with enormous pleasure. Analysis is irrelevant; this is music to be enjoyed, as every few minute we exclaim: Ah, wunderbar!

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